Last year I arrived in the town of Yambio, the capital of the South Sudan state of Western Equatoria, to look at the impact of LRA attacks in the region. One of the first people I met was Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussula, who not only took the time to talk with me about the conflict but also helped me travel to visit refugees and displaced persons in the far-flung villages and camps away from the capital. I have tremendous respect for Bishop Eduardo and his commitment to finding a lasting resolution to this conflict, which is why I’m delighted to share an open letter that he wrote this week regarding LRA violence and what must be done to stop it.
I couldn’t agree more with his conclusion that, “It will be completely absurd and shameful for the Newly Independent South Sudan to have its first noble duty to begin fighting the LRA out of the Southern Sudan instead of reorganizing itself with first thing first – which is peace for its war traumatized citizens.
We have suffered so much from a war that is not our own and have often felt forgotten and ignored by our own governments and by the international community. The U.S. new strategy or similar tends to give us hope. I implore you to implement it and to begin those efforts today.”
Find his entire letter below.
OPEN LETTER TO WHOM THE DESTRUCTION OF HUMAN LIFE MATTERS
LRA ATROCITIES MAY COMPROMISE PEACE IN THE NEW BORN NATION OF SOUTHERN SUDAN
Ref. APPEAL FOR PEACE IN THE LRA DEVASTED AREA OF WESTERN EQUATORIA, S. SUDAN
This is a critical and historic moment for Sudan. The decades’ old project of building the national identity of the Sudanese people is now facing the possibility of the re-construction of the country, including its geography. After a long history of suffering finally the people of South Sudan are in the process of achieving their self-determination. The run up to the referendum was tense with the possibility of eruption of violence which lead to really war. The hand of God Almighty has been with us and has granted us a peaceful referendum. We who live in Western Equatoria State where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been very active and destructive were never sure we would be able to contact the referendum in peace.
As a matter of fact, the preparation for democratic right of self-determination was a project, which many useful hands were
required. Because, we know, that this project for life was heavily paid for through atrocities, loss of life, discrimination and the waste of generations of potential by successive regimes since independence.
The situation of the LRA has not improved since before, during and after the referendum. Last month we lost a religious Nun into the hands of LRA in northern Congo on 17th January, from 22nd to 25th December over 17 people have been abducted in Maridi and Ibba counties, as well as around Yambio county respectively, with nine dead and seven wounded in the same counties. From 13th to 18th January to 07th February there has been sporadic appearance and killings, abduction, wounding and displacement of the people in Western Equatoria by the LRA. Our worries continue to increase as the rain season is getting closer and people are preparing to cultivate their fields this year.
Honestly for us in the Southern Sudan, we are committed to take this historic momentum of self-determination as an opportunity to learn from the devastating mistakes made by Northern governments as well as the LRA. We hope, as we have opted for independence, that we will need to choose democracy over repression, embrace diversity over division,
defend human rights and justice over abuses, empower transparency and accountability over corruption and nepotism, and promote equality between men and women over discrimination. Above all choose Peace over War.
As one of the representatives of civil society, human right religious groups in the LRA-affected areas of, southern Sudan, I am writing to ask you to urgently implement the new strategy that the US government released last year 2010 on tackling the problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It seems without implementation of the strategy, the words on paper are remaining meaningless and many of us, who live with the daily threat of the LRA, will continue to suffer.
Each day that goes by without a solution to the problem of the LRA is another day of terror and pain for those of us living under constant threat of renewed attacks. Already, the LRA has brutally killed more than 2,700 of our family members and abducted over 3,500 others since they began their latest wave of killings in September 2008. Many of our children are still in the hands of the LRA. We do not know if they are alive or dead. Those who have managed to escape the LRA bear the physical and mental scars of what they have suffered and will never be the same again. We have few means to help them re-adjust and integrate back into our communities, but we are trying to do what we can.
With over 500,000 people displaced from their homes, our lives are not easy. We no longer have access to our fields, our schools are not functioning, and we struggle to fight off diseases and to find enough food to feed our families.
In this period as we move closer to the rain season, we are particularly afraid of more attacks by the LRA. We remember the Christmas massacres of 2008, and when the LRA killed at least 865 civilians during the Christmas period, and the Makombo massacre of December 2009, when 345 civilians were killed and also in similar manner, on 14th of August 2009 in one of my parishes of Ezo was attacked and more 26 faithful were killed and more than 30 were abducted. At this time of the year, when we should be preparing for the historical Southern Sudan independence, we instead mourn our loved ones and we live each day in fear of more LRA attacks.
My dear people of God, I personally, fully agree with the American Government’s strategy’s overall goal for the people of central Africa to be “free from the threat of LRA violence and have the freedom to pursue their livelihoods.” I also welcome the strategy’s four strategic objectives to: a) increase protection of civilians; b) apprehend or remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders; c) promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of remaining LRA fighters; and d) increase humanitarian access and provide continued relief to affected communities. But I
also add the strategy of Peace negotiation initiative as a genuine option.
Please, do not delay a day longer in implementing this strategy. I implore you to find the financial resources and the political will to turn the goals and objectives of this strategy into reality. For us, this is a matter of life and death.
In particular, I urge you to prioritize the protection of our communities at risk of continued LRA attacks. While the presence of UN peacekeepers has given some help, it has been not nearly enough. For example, in northern Congo’s Haut Uele District, MONUSCO peacekeepers provide some protection in certain communities, but there are currently no peacekeepers in Southern Sudan, Western EQUATORIA State and northern Congo’s Bas Uele District (Congo), one of the areas worst
affected by LRA attacks. Where peacekeepers are deployed, they rarely leave their bases and have sometimes proven unable – or unwilling – to prevent or respond to LRA attacks less than a kilometre from their bases. Painfully, the UNIMIS in the Sudan do not have chapter seven, (I have no justification of this point) which can enable them to protect the civilian, as such the local population has no faith in them at all.
I would appreciate your recognition of a lack of communications infrastructure and good roads has made it difficult for us to report on attacks in a timely way or send out calls for help. I am glad that support in this area has been identified as a priority action the US Government’s strategy. I hope this will include urgent efforts to expand cell phone coverage in the LRA affected areas, to implement early warning systems though HF radios, and to rehabilitate key roads and airstrips.
All I am quite convinced of is that the LRA problem in our communities will not be resolved until Joseph Kony and the other senior leaders are made to leave the forest and come home. As long as the LRA’s top leaders evade capture, I fear they will only continue to abduct our children, who in turn will be trained to replace any lower and mid-level combatants who escape, defect, or are killed.
Efforts to pursue the LRA have relied on our own national armies, but to date this has not worked. The leaders of the LRA remain at large. I urge you to pursue other options and to look for support beyond our borders. I hope you will work together to take this idea forward.
I recommend that the apprehension of senior LRA leaders, through a professional law enforcement operation, taking all necessary steps to minimize harm to civilians, be a vital component of any comprehensive strategy to end the LRA threat. The UN has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to ending impunity and holding to account individuals responsible for serious violations of international law. Supporting apprehension of individuals wanted on existing arrest warrants is therefore within the mandate of the Secretary General and the UN.
The US strategy is a welcome first step in recognizing that the apprehension of LRA leaders is necessary, but that strategy fails to describe how such a force would be operationalized.
The Secretary General can play a key role in facilitating the arrest of senior LRA commanders as part of a broader strategy to address the crisis by:
- Encouraging member states to put together a law enforcement operation capable of apprehending LRA leaders and holding them to account for the crimes committed and to do so in coordination with the governments of countries affected by the LRA.
- Encouraging the Security Council to work with the African Union to, if necessary, provide a multilateral mandate for an emergency multinational force to apprehend senior LRA commanders and protect civilians.
In summary I recommend these as possible way to immediate remedy to the atrocities of the LRA on us:
- Expand the U.S. Engagement and other International bodies: By dedicating a significant new staff and resources. Work also with regional and international partners. Special pressure by the International community should be put on the four regional governments in the areas affected by the LRA to bring quick mutual solution to the LRA crisis.
- The LRA may be the immediate difficulty to pose to the new expectant Southern Sudan, so it is very encumbered that solution should be found before July 9th 2011.
- Peace Negotiation: Offer chance for peace talk between the LRA and Ugandan Rebels. Find corridors to Kony to initiate some sort of dialogue with him in search for peace. Military option alone cannot solve the problem anyhow.
- Protect Civilians: By massively expand radio and mobile phone networks. Improve the effectiveness of national militaries, Community Vigilantes (arrow boys) and raising UNNIMIS chapter to seven. Also ensure that local voices are heard.
- Stop Senior LRA Commanders: Apprehend Joseph Kony and top LRA Commanders. Encourage LRA commanders to defect. Very rigorously cut off external support to the LRA.
- Facilitate Escape: Help people escape from the LRA. Also ensure those who escape can return home.
- Help Communities survive and rebuild: By finding a way to reach people in need of emergency aid, increase aid to disrupted communities. Address the conflict’s root causes.
It will be completely absurd and shameful for the Newly Independent South Sudan to have its first noble duty to begin fighting the LRA out of the Southern Sudan instead of reorganizing itself with first thing first – which is peace for its war traumatized citizens.
We have suffered so much from a war that is not our own and have often felt forgotten and ignored by our own governments and by the international community. The U.S. new strategy or similar tends to give us hope. I implore you to implement it and to begin those efforts today.
Please continue to pray for true peace in the Sudan!
Barani Eduardo Hiiboro KUSSALA
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio,